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Supreme Court affirms admitting English transcript at trial

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English language translation transcripts of statements recorded in foreign language, if otherwise admissible, may be properly considered as substantive evidence, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.

In Noe Romo v. State of Indiana, No. 49S04-1009-CR-499, the justices had to decide whether a trial court committed reversible error by admitting as substantive evidence the three translation transcripts of the Spanish recordings between Noe Romo and a police informant. The recordings were made during drug transactions and Romo was later convicted of three counts of Class A felony dealing in cocaine or narcotic drugs.

Romo’s attorney made several unsuccessful objections to the state’s offer of the English transcripts into evidence. The trial court ruled the Spanish recordings wouldn’t be played because the jurors would likely not understand them. Romo’s appeal only challenged the admission of the English transcripts and not the refusal of the trial court to play the audio recordings to the jury.

The Indiana Rules of Evidence don’t address this exact issue, but Evidence Rule 1002 says that to prove the content of a writing, recording, or photograph, the original is required, with a few exceptions.

Indiana caselaw hasn’t touched on this specific issue either, with previous rulings dealing with transcripts of recordings that were both in English. Those rulings viewed the function of transcripts as an aid to assist a jury’s understanding of the actual recording and that the original recording must be submitted as proof of the contents of the recording. Justice Brent Dickson noted that Small v. State, 736 N.E.2d 742 (Ind. 2000), and Roby v. State, 742 N.E.2d 505 (Ind. 2001), left open the possibly of a more robust role for transcripts where recording is inaudible or indistinct.

The justices turned to federal rulings to find that English language translation transcripts of statements recorded in a foreign language, if otherwise admissible, may properly be considered as substantive evidence, citing United States v. Estrada, 256 F.3d 466 (7th Cir. 2001), and United States v. Placensia, 352 F.3d 1157, 1165 (8th Cir. 2003). They also held the admission into evidence of foreign language translation transcripts is not governed by Evidence Rule 1002.

“Although the defendant does not here focus on the trial court's refusal to play the Spanish recordings, in the exercise of our general supervisory authority, we determine that it is generally the better practice to play such foreign language recordings to the jury upon a reasonable request by a party,” Justice Dickson wrote. “Expediency undoubtedly results when a jury is spared from listening to foreign-language recordings, and practical usefulness is served by providing them instead with reliable English translations or translation transcripts. But we value even higher the capacity of jurors to apply their sensing and intuition faculties in reaching their determinations.”

The justices summarily affirmed the Indiana Court of Appeals on all other issues, and affirmed the judgment of the trial court.

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  1. Why in the world would someone need a person to correct a transcript when a realtime court reporter could provide them with a transcript (rough draft) immediately?

  2. If the end result is to simply record the spoke word, then perhaps some day digital recording may eventually be the status quo. However, it is a shallow view to believe the professional court reporter's function is to simply report the spoken word and nothing else. There are many aspects to being a professional court reporter, and many aspects involved in producing a professional and accurate transcript. A properly trained professional steno court reporter has achieved a skill set in a field where the average dropout rate in court reporting schools across the nation is 80% due to the difficulty of mastering the necessary skills. To name just a few "extras" that a court reporter with proper training brings into a courtroom or a deposition suite; an understanding of legal procedure, technology specific to the legal profession, and an understanding of what is being said by the attorneys and litigants (which makes a huge difference in the quality of the transcript). As to contracting, or anti-contracting the argument is simple. The court reporter as governed by our ethical standards is to be the independent, unbiased individual in a deposition or courtroom setting. When one has entered into a contract with any party, insurance carrier, etc., then that reporter is no longer unbiased. I have been a court reporter for over 30 years and I echo Mr. Richardson's remarks that I too am here to serve.

  3. A competitive bid process is ethical and appropriate especially when dealing with government agencies and large corporations, but an ethical line is crossed when court reporters in Pittsburgh start charging exorbitant fees on opposing counsel. This fee shifting isn't just financially biased, it undermines the entire justice system, giving advantages to those that can afford litigation the most. It makes no sense.

  4. "a ttention to detail is an asset for all lawyers." Well played, Indiana Lawyer. Well played.

  5. I have a appeals hearing for the renewal of my LPN licenses and I need an attorney, the ones I have spoke to so far want the money up front and I cant afford that. I was wondering if you could help me find one that takes payments or even a pro bono one. I live in Indiana just north of Indianapolis.

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